Saturday, October 6, 2018

Perfect Day


    It's such a perfect day
    I'm glad I spent it with you
    Such a perfect day...

I remember the precise moment when those words from Lou Reed came to me. I should remember. I've lived that moment so many times.

I'd just started to ask you if you wanted a second glass of Pinot Grigio, and you interrupted me, and right out of the blue, you said, 'I've sold the house.'

There was no need to say anything, elaborate, add anything to that factual, brutal statement. It was all taken care of. It was done. We were together, finally, as we would be for the rest of our lives.

The clatter of plates and glasses in the hotel restaurant, the hubbub of overlapping conversations, the music — what was it? some 40s crooner, every single sound seemed precise and separate, and so far away. All I could see was you.

How long did we remain like that, just looking into one another's eyes?

I know the answer, exactly, down to the last second. It was seven minutes and forty-seven seconds.

... We were just ten miles away from the epicentre of the H-Bomb blast. You died. I survived. I watched you fade away as a concrete beam pressed out the last vestiges of life from your broken body.

I held your hand. I mumbled that help was on its way but we both knew that was a lie. Amid the screams and the wailing sirens, and the traumatized waiter who kept repeating, 'I am sorry, I am sorry...'.

I watched your eyes dull over. I said it too. I am so sorry, my darling, so sorry it all had to end this way. Absurdly, at the very moment when we could both see the course of our lives, so clearly.

As I have said, so many times.

How ironic that time travel should have been finally perfected just a few weeks earlier. The ultimate solution to every problem, the ultimate weapon, the ultimate folly.

But was it irony? Was it just a coincidence, as I and the other members of our research team must have been thinking, at this very moment? Where were they? I wondered.

The rescuers who came for me, they came right to me, knew exactly where I was amongst the smouldering ruins. How did they manage to arrive so quickly?

I don't want to think about it. But I can't help it. I've been through every possible theory, every possible scenario. Who would do this? and why? for what gain?

There's no point. I will never know. Now.

We were running — the rescuers were practically dragging me — towards a waiting van. Unmarked, I noticed. I shook myself free and made a run for it. Ran through smoking streets and alleyways, through the dazed soon-to-be-dead citizens of our metropolis, up the stairs to my apartment where I had secretly kept an early prototype of the device, smuggled out of the lab before government security agents turned it into an impregnable fortress.

Ah, but that's the thing! We thought it was such a great achievement, then, to be able to travel back in time just two hours!

I set the dial back as far as it would go.

And now, I am slowly edging down the hall towards the restaurant entrance. Through the doorway, I can see us, you and me — the other me — in the far corner. In exactly one minute the other me will get up from the table and go to the washroom.

I will be waiting for the other me behind the washroom door. I will take out the knife hastily grabbed from the kitchen drawer...

Logic tells me that when I return to our table, it won't be you. It will be your counterpart in another universe, another reality, brought into existence the moment I pressed the button on the time travel device. That doesn't seem to matter. What do the words 'same' or 'different' mean, anyway?

I can't save you, of course. I have to wait for the explosion, as I have waited so many times. Watch you die, as I have watched you die, and die, and die...

Beneath the washroom window, near the garbage cans by the hotel back entrance, is a growing pile of dead bodies, their throats slit. Same face, same clothes, same surprised expression.

As I wait behind the washroom door, I know what I have to do. As I have done, and will do, for ever.

No, not for ever.

Because the objective observer in me knows that one of three things WILL happen: Either the device will fail, or I will run out of places to hide the bodies — or I will finally find the mental strength to NOT press that button.

© Geoffrey Klempner 2012